VILNIUS, July 13 (Reuters) – European Union member Lithuania will adhere to the EU executive’s advice that sanctioned Russian goods can transit to the Kaliningrad exclave, its Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The European Commission made the announcement earlier on Wednesday, after weeks of tensions between Moscow, Lithuania and the European Union which tested Europe’s resolve to enforce sanctions on Russia.
Kaliningrad, which is bordered by EU states and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods, has been cut off from some freight transport from mainland Russia since June 17 under sanctions imposed by Brussels.
Sources told Reuters in June that European officials, backed by Germany, were in talks about exempting the territory from sanctions, paving the way for a deal in early July if Lithuania drops its reservations.
The guidance published on Wednesday said EU trade sanctions should not apply to transport between Russia and its exclave, so long as its volumes do not exceed averages of the last three years, reflecting “the real demand for essential goods at the destination.”
EU members were tasked with monitoring trade between Russia and Kaliningrad to check for sanction circumvention, such as making sure there are “no unusual flows or trade patterns.”
The transit of sanctioned military and dual use goods and technology remains fully prohibited.
Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday the previous trade rules, which blocked many sanctioned cargos from transport between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad, were “more acceptable.”
“Kaliningrad transit rules may create an unjustified impression that the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy towards Russia,” the statement said.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday it was expecting progress over a possible EU deal to allow Russia to transit some sanctioned goods to its Kaliningrad exclave, but the problem had not been resolved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarus counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally, on Monday discussed a possible response to Lithuania’s actions during a phone call, their Telegram accounts said.
Kaliningrad, a Baltic port and environs home to around 1 million people, was annexed by the Soviet Union from Germany after World War Two and is connected to the rest of Russia only through EU territory, mainly rail via Belarus through Lithuania.
Moscow says the ban on overland transit of some sanctioned goods amounted to an illegal blockade; Lithuania says it had no choice but to enforce sanctions imposed by Brussels.
Goods that fall within humanitarian or essential categories, such as food, were always exempted from the sanctions. Passenger traffic is not banned and Kaliningrad can still be reached by air or sea.
Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Editing by William Maclean, Reuters.